“and mostly, I am grateful that I take this world so seriously”

It’s time to tuck a few notes into the Internet time capsule.

The abstract ones and the notes scribbled on legal paper with phrases like “we are all the sum of our contradictions” and “it’s hard to pull off anything, take as long as you need.” Cheesy book quotes, like: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Or essays that start with, “It’s a long story…”

Because it is a long story, so save the Playbills and the concert tickets and remember the funny phrases and the pizza and the good weather and the love (and shame) and love. Always, always, always love. And balloons.

21, thanks for the drinks.

Thanks for the goodbyes and hellos.

Thanks for feeling like a million Alanis Morissette songs.

Thanks for Big Bear and the beach.

Thanks for graduation and the discovery of deer.

Thanks for The OC game and Joan Didion.

Thanks for good lighting and simple songs.

Thanks for Pet Sounds and Born to Run.

Thanks for the uke and Dream a Little Dream.

Thanks for cute faced kittens and dogs with a sense of humor.

Thanks for belly laughs.

Thanks for family and long days in pajamas.

Thanks for “Shall we dance?”

Thanks for Beyonce.

And thanks for Harry Potter. Because that had to happen.

22, I want even more karaoke.

And finger picking ukulele songs

More give

More patience

More poetry

More accents

More songs of myself and long walks and Xs and Os.

And maybe a little Mahler spilling through those songs.

22, there’s something about you that I really like already.

I wanted to thank the mockingbird for the vigor of his song.

Everyday he sang from the rim of the field,

While I picked blueberries or just idled in the sun.

Every day he came fluttering by to show me,

and why not, the white blossoms of his wings.

 

So one day I went there with a machine,

And played some songs of Mahler.

The mocking bird stopped singing,

he came close and seemed to listen.

 

Now when I go down to the field,

a little Mahler spills through the sputters of his song.

How happy I am, lounging in the light,

listening as the music floats by!

 

And I give thanks also for my mind,

that thought of giving the gift.

And mostly I’m grateful that I take this world so seriously.

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Lovesong

I’m exactly who Paul McCartney was talking about when he said “some people want to fill the world with silly love songs.”

I want to be Toulouse-Lautrec swinging from the ceilings of the Moulin Rouge reminding everyone to love and be loved.

I want to be Galway Kinnel walking amongst “the ten thousand things scratched in time with such knowledge” that the wages of dying is love.

I want to karaoke to “Lovefool.”

I want to carry a golf-sized umbrella through the rain, with enough space for me and the unprepared mothers with babies standing underneath store awnings or trees.

I want to recite Pablo Neruda and Regie Cabico with the knowledge of someone who knows words aren’t enough, but that these words are the best.

I want to tell everyone I love them by giving my time, by answering my phone, by just eating the goddamn heels of the loaf of bread instead of skipping over it. I want to pay for the hot chocolate AND the extra whipped cream. And I want songs that remind me of all this.

Driving home from work, I caught the tail end of a song I hadn’t heard in years, which prompted me to pull out my iPod and reminisce with music from five years ago playing in the background. My premature nostalgia is one of the marks of being a part of a generation constantly confronted with how precarious and ephemeral everything here is. The other is an ambition to feel and see it all because it’s not going to last forever.

I turned on Dashboard Confessional – “searching just like anyone, I could be anyone” – and fell down the rabbit hole with Taking Back Sunday, laughing at the fact that almost every song they had was a breakup song or a song about someone lying to them and breaking their heart.  And then “This Photograph is Proof (I Know You Know)” shuffled on.

I remember the day I bought “Where You Want to Be.” My friend Kati and I had been dropped off at the mall to see a movie and we were wandering around before it started. We went into a now defunct CD store, whose name I can’t remember and who charged an outrageous amount for everything, and I saw the cover to this CD: a naked baby on a deserted road and thought it seemed like something I should own.

When I got home, I played it and “This Photograph is Proof” stood out to me. It wasn’t tinged with any of the dramatics of the other songs, it was honest and urgent. “I’ll wait ‘til you listen,” he sings, like someone with something important to say. Ending the verse with a sad: “And you’re noticing nothing again.” It’s written for an old band mate and an even older friend and it is their one, sincere love song.

“I know you know everything, I know you didn’t mean it,” he repeats in the chorus, ending the song with his voice see-sawing back and forth in a way that makes it sound like a lullaby. It’s an “I’m sorry” and an “I forgive you,” two alternative spellings of “I love you” and hearing it again made me so happy because it is Toulouse swinging from the ceiling, it is Paul McCartney going there again, it is Galway discovering the world through “Little Sleep’s-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight.”

And it is so full of love, like we all are.

i’m always falling in love

Before leaving town yesterday afternoon I got a strange case of déjà vu standing in front of my friend’s door, which I always take to mean that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Saturday morning I slept in and then went to the farmer’s market where I picked up a loaf of zucchini chocolate bread for the first time in over a year, which seemed special in some way. I skipped over puddles and made faces at dogs before downing a pint-sized cup of complimentary rose-water lemonade and walking to grab a coffee, a spare chair and a table where I could enjoy a half hour of fiction.

A woman placed her things beside me and eventually we ended up in line at the same time, grabbing slices of lemon cakes and bagels and sharing details of our lives. She asked about my book and we talked about the now-defunct Borders and how there’s really no place like that around here anymore.

She told me she drove an hour to the Barnes and Noble on the plaza and it was nice but that she’s not there often enough for the drive to be convenient.

Maybe it’s that I’m on the precipice of another year, maybe it’s the fact that it’s the end of some things but when I get back to my seat that day I feel compelled to remember everything. So, like Zan McQuade I write it all down and for the next twelve hours I don’t stop.

I find pens in my car and take old ceremony programs from work and write it out in the five minute parking space in front of the dry cleaners. I keep one hand on the steering wheel and with the other I dangerously write down names as the next customer honks at me to hurry up and leave. I get the battery in the plastic one dollar watch from the antique store replaced for free and on the way out I run into my new dental hygienist—the one I share a history of small high schools and small towns with. I make a U-turn at the stoplight and head home for a twenty minute break where instead of reading what I’ve already written, I fill the margins with more and more notes.

Joshie has always told Post-Human Services staff to keep a diary, to remember who we were because every moment of our brains and synapses are rebuilt and rewired with maddening disregard for our personalities, so that each year, each month, each day we transform into a different person, an utterly unfaithful iteration of our original selves… – Super Sad True Love Story

__

After I finish my coffee and come to a stopping place in my book, I spend the rest of my Saturday morning running an errand I’ve set out to do for the past year. After I’ve finished the errand I see a sale sign and stop into the antique store I’ve passed countless times on 6th street and I buy an unused watch for one dollar. Normally, I would not have stopped but today is different.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The errand I ran involved an old pair of brown leather riding boots that needed to get re-heeled. I drive to the north side of Lawrence and unintentionally end up on a tour of the town.

The leather shop where I take my boots has a turquoise kayak in the yard, an old piano with keys that don’t move, piles and piles of bowling balls decorated with plastic jewels and paint that makes them seem like versions of the Earth if the Earth had been created by happy-go-lucky four year olds or Antoni Gaudi.

It takes the cobbler seconds to figure out what needs to be fixed on my boots and it takes me nearly half an hour to leave.

“Where are you from?” he asks and when I tell him “Kansas” in a general way he says “of course you’re a Kansas girl” with a smile. It’s the best compliment I’ve received in some time because I don’t think he would say the same to someone he suspected to be from Kansas City. I like his Kansas, I know it by heart.

I wonder if it’s the boots that have given me away—that I’d rather replace the leather around the soles where it’s too worn, that I’d prefer to keep an original, old pair of shoes with scuffs on the toes instead of buying something new and wearing them in.

Then I think that maybe it’s the way I take ownership of the entire state.

I suppose that it might be the way that I pivot from my spot, trying to see every inch of his workspace until he gives me permission to wander. Maybe he can tell by the way I pluck the strings of his mandolin and ask to hold his banjo, although I can’t play a single chord. Maybe it’s how I ask questions about the little girl in pictures playing what he refers to as a fiddle. Maybe he can tell by the way I absentmindedly finger the leather of the brown saddles in the back next to the rows of black motorcycle jackets waiting to be picked up. Or, maybe it’s that I ask questions and am happy to wait a half hour for the answers.

On the two second drive back into the heart of Lawrence, I pass a Southwestern style restaurant with outdoor seating and I can’t believe I had no idea that it existed. I almost want to believe that it has appeared just to surprise me, to show me more of what I haven’t seen but I know better. I’m seventeen again and I’m closing my eyes and wishing for more and more time like I don’t know that everything ends.

It’s not a war story, but it can sound like one.

To generalize about war is like generalizing about peace. Almost everything is true. Almost nothing is true. Though it’s odd, you’re never more alive than when you’re almost dead. You recognize what’s valuable. Freshly, as if for the first time, you love what’s best in yourself and in the world, all that might be lost. At the hour of dusk you sit at your foxhole and look out on a wide river turning pinkish red, and at the mountains beyond, and although in the morning you must cross the river and go into the mountains and do terrible things and maybe die, even so, you find yourself studying the fine colors on the river, you feel wonder and awe at the setting of the sun, and you are filled with a hard, aching love for how the world could be and always should be, but now is not. -The Things They Carried

My fear of auld lang syne compels me to write everything before time runs away from me and transformations that television high school valedictorians have warned me of for years begin to take place.

“Look to your left. Now look to your right. Remember yourself exactly as you are today.”

If this article weren’t so brilliant I’d almost be disgusted by how many times I’ve read it.

Almost.

Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific. Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being. Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.

Liking is for Cowards. Go for what Hurts – Jonathan Franzen Op-Ed in the New York Times

Jesus Christ!

Jesus Christ was the original tortured artist.

That’s what Andrew Lloyd Webber was getting at, right?

When I was five, six or somewhere near that age between innocence and enlightenment/self-awareness (seven?) I wanted to be a doctor, a model (not for the looks thing but for the standing around thing and getting paid–I knew what was up even then) and then finally a storyteller.

My dad, who was a pilot, would come home after being away for an entire week and recount Aesop’s Fables to my brothers and I in the back yard—always making sure to change his voice for the various animals. I felt so connected to those stories and the art of storytelling. Later, when we moved to Salina, I would always make sure to visit the storytellers’ tents during the River Festival and I started telling my own stories.

Years later, it happened.

I started feeling anxiety over things that I would write. I wouldn’t want to share it or look at it or acknowledge it because I was sure it was all the worst. That I was The Worst. But I still felt compelled to write, which is how I knew I was doomed.

I prayed that my ambitions would be skewed, that I’d want to do something easier or simpler.

Give me a love of numbers or anatomy.
Give me a passion for laws and regulations.
Anything, ANYTHING!

But please don’t make me do this.

“I only want to say
If there is a way
Take this cup away from me
For I don’t want to taste its poison
Feel it burn me,
I have changed I’m not as sure
As when we started
Then I was inspired
Now I’m sad and tired
Listen surely I’ve exceeded
Expectations
Tried for three years
Seems like thirty
Could you ask as much
From any other man?”

My ambitions have stayed and like most things in the realm of love when it’s good there’s nothing better and when it’s bad I turn into a five year old and just want it to be good again and wah.

Which leads me to the present, where I have two versions of a short story minimized on my dash at work because I stayed up until I was too delirious to edit any of it last night because THAT IS HOW I COPE WITH BEING DOOMED/SCARED.

But Sunday morning and afternoon when I was sitting at my computer with the phone and wireless off and just writingwritingwriting? That made me deliriously, ceiling dancing happy. And I spent the rest of the day thinking about those characters and wanting to do more with them (and then being afraid of looking back at them, but I’m getting over it now). Everything else just feels like an obstacle to get over before I can do that again.

“Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to
Problems that upset you, oh.
Don’t you know
Everything’s alright, yes, everything’s fine.
And we want you to sleep well tonight.
Let the world turn without you tonight.
If we try, we’ll get by, so forget all about us tonight”

I am so doomed.

Which, I guess, is the whole point.

think bigger/look closer

The Midwestern stereotype still exists for a reason, of course, but guess what? It’s just a stereotype, and it’s not the only one out there. On average, perhaps big-city folk are less likely to judge you for being gay than their rural counterparts, but an alarming number of them will judge you for almost everything else you can imagine, including visible panty lines and meals at chain restaurants. They are more progressive, but they can also be more shallow and almost exhausting in their hatred of any fashion trend or any style of tattoo or any other gesture that could be seen as conformist or contrived or played out.

…kindness and positivity get more done than a subscription to any particular creed or belief system, and that intolerance and bigotry are both more widespread and less uniformly present in any given group of people than a lot of us enjoy believing.

“Man, I bet you’re glad to be out of there!” is a sentiment I hear frequently now that I’ve moved to the Bay Area–a subtle, sometimes anxious request for confirmation that I don’t have a Glenn Beck poster on my bedroom ceiling. I don’t really mind, but I can’t help but laugh at the irony: if I wanted to walk around promising people that I’m just like them and always will be, I might as well have never left home.

This article.

I grew up in a town with a little over 45,000 people. I attended a small, Catholic school with less than 300 students, where my siblings and I provided the only diversity in our elementary and high schools until the smaller Catholic school with a few Latina students integrated into ours. Before that, it was us and the Italian family. Italian was diverse; anything not German, Swedish or fourth generation Kansas was out of the ordinary.

I have dated sons of farmers who work from dawn until dusk during summer months. I have dated wannabe rappers and white gangsters with no sense of reality from towns with less than 2,000 people. I have driven on I-70 through fields of nothing. I have sped down backroads at 100 miles per hour on country nights, collecting dust and memories in towns smaller than the size of the residence hall I worked in sophomore year. And I have played sports and visited towns where people assumed I was a foreign exchange student because it’s Western Kansas, and where else could I come from?

My experience growing up was typical in some ways but so different than anyone I know. The storyteller in me (the majority of me) is so obsessed with it and wants to share it but I never know how to do that. Because Western Kansas may as well be Timbuktu to most people. I grew up in a “flyover state.” A state people assume isn’t interesting because they’ve never gotten a good look.

But I promise you there’s a lot there and eventually I’ll tell you all about it.

starting to get addicted to…

You know that saying “Once on your lips, forever on your hips”? That’s the way I feel about celebrity gossip.

Not literally, of course. I don’t think talking about Justin Beiber will give you thunder thighs (but maybe you should stop talking about him anyway, just in case). I think talking about him or investing any time into knowing personal facts about his life will stick with you and find a way to permeate other areas of your life in which it doesn’t belong. But let’s be honest, errant gossip about teenagers or anyone you don’t know doesn’t really belong in your life.*

For instance, I know way too much about Jennifer Aniston.

I know she drinks Smart Water, is dating Justin Theroux (whoever that is), has dated John Mayer, is the daughter of Victor (real name John Aniston) from Day’s of Our Lives (my favorite fact about her!) and is divorced from Brad Pitt.

There are numerous ways I could have written that last fact: had her husband stolen from her by Angelina Jolie, as if he were a possession; was betrayed by her husband, Brad Pitt, for the bombshell Angelina Jolie –as if I actually know anything about the state of Brad and Jen’s marriage at that time; et cetera, et cetera.

The point is: I know too much. We all know too much.

I know so much that I have formed a theory about Jennifer Aniston.

America, or specifically, the American press, will never grow tired of/feel satisfied with Jennifer Aniston’s life  until she is married to a billionaire Greek shipping magnate, being photographed with that assthat hair and that smile off the coast of Mykonos while we deal with unyielding hot or cold weather and expanding waistlines stateside. Because we are obsessed with subscribing emotions to her and our own versions of happy endings for her, regardless of what her happy ending might be. Because she already gave us a happy ending once. Because we’re great with beginnings but can’t deal with the endings that we get. Because we’re still obsessed with her fairy tale.

The idea of happy endings, misrepresented beginnings and unexpected conclusions all lead to my current addiction. I’m starting to get a teensy, tin bit obsessed/addicted to Mia Farrow, by way of Woody Allen (I know, I know)

A letter from Mia to her stepdaughter, Nancy Sinatra:

My children are a continuous joy. The latest is Soon-Yi (aged 6, 7 or 8 — we’re saying 7). She’s from Korea — was found abandoned in the streets of Seoul — with rickets, malnutrition — even her finger nails had fallen off, she had lice and sores everywhere. Now she speaks English and is learning to read, write, play piano, dance ballet & ride a horse. She is also learning that people can be believed in and even loved. These are golden times and I am aware of that every single second.

After reading this TIME article from 1992, I’m really feeling a Jennifer/Brad/Angelina vibe from Woody and Mia, in that the press portrayed them as the perfect love story and of course they were spectacularly wrong about that, at least in the end.

 

Mia’s humanitarian goals and status as “the betrayed” makes her both Angelina and Jennifer.

Her ethereal, whimsical nature is something worth looking up to, even if it’s just on the surface.

“I get it now; I didn’t get it then. That life is about losing and about doing it as gracefully as possible…and enjoying everything in between.”

I get it now.

I get it now.

 

*That is an unintentionally misleading statement. I also don’t think gossip concerning people you do know belongs anywhere in your life. But, if we’re being honest here (and I’m always being honest here) my psyche is stuck in constant turmoil between being Cady Heron Before and Cady Heron after. It’s a process.

 

 

 

 

 

and there you go

In May of last year Jody Rosen wrote a review of LCD Soundsystem’s “This is Happening,” commending James Murphy for “making his midlife crisis danceable.”

It’s true: the first time you hear “I Can Change” you will want to turn your speakers all the way to Spinal Tap eleven and pretend your living room is a dive bar in Brooklyn. Even at eleven, the music will not seem loud enough to accompany the steps of your exuberant dancing, seemingly matching Murphy’s tone.

The second time you listen to it, the music will seem quiet for a different reason. It will recede into the background and James Murphy’s voice will begin to sound lonely and desperate. You will hear the repeated chorus of “never change” and “I can change” and it will become uncomfortable.

If you are far enough away from the situation he sings about, the lines will just be uncomfortable because you don’t understand him. If you do understand him, you will want him to SHUT. THE. —-. UP.

But, also, keep singing?

Because it’s all so right and beautiful and if you change, then you change and if you don’t, you don’t need to yet.

At this point, you will have to move on to “Dance Yrself Clean” and do as instructed. It’s a process.

I need louder speakers.

And landslides.

And avalanches.

And floods that submerge the entire world then recede and reveal everything as cleaner and more beautiful than before. Aside from a few touch-ups, I wrote all of the above on February 25th for my creative nonfiction class. I was getting used to a slight change in lifestyle and saying goodbye to an old, sort-of neighbor who wouldn’t actually be leaving for months.

I’m weird with goodbyes. That is something that will never change.

And it’s weird and seems like almost too much to say that “Dance Yrself Clean” helped, but I really think it did. And now James Murphy is leaving music to do other things, focus on other aspects of his life that deserve to be developed and now I don’t need eight minute dance songs that make me whip my hair back and forth but I don’t want to say goodbye.

I don’t want to say goodbye to a band that is so able to link themselves to my memories. Like sneaking out for blueberry pancakes in the middle of the night and seeing sunrises from deserted parking lots with All My Friends.

And New York, I Love You and swearing I could hear the ending from my campsite. And even if I didn’t hear it then, getting that from Madison Square Garden at four in the afternoon from my living room while thinking about choosing sleep over delirious fans and synth beats in the early morning at Bonnaroo and knowing that no matter how many words I cram into this sentence I could never tell you how much that all means or what it all means or what it means to cry over a song or to pause it all before the big breakdown and write it all out because it might just be the goodbye or the change or something else that I haven’t quite figured out.

I wish I had more time to say thank you, but I’ll turn the music up and let it go.

I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision for another five years of life

It’s happening.

taking the long way

This is the first time, in a long time, that I’ve had things to do (midterm, papers, meetings, events) and I have not felt overwhelmed or stressed by them.

At least, not consistently. If we’re being honest here, I was struggling last week–not for school reasons but for LIFE reasons, ya know?

I was feeling a little like Captain Ahab–grim about the mouth; a damp, drizzly November in my soul; finding myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I met; and especially letting my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it required a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off.*

Like Captain Ahab, I accounted it high time to get to seas as soon as I could.

Which is in two weeks!

At first, I thought a road trip to St. Louis would be perfect. Then, I figured if I was driving I may as well go anywhere.

I thought it would be a great time to visit San Francisco and see the Redwoods. Then, I figured if I was driving that far I may as well make stops in Colorado, Utah and Nevada.

The reality of how much work would need to be done on my car before I began this adventure set in pretty quickly and no. Just no.

There’s an Amtrak station an hour away from my hometown that heads West and I love the old-timey nature of train rides. So, trains.

And those were just the beginning of the week plans! Since last June I have reserved the last days of my Spring break for Chicago.

Right now I’ve got Chicago, the idea of trains (no tickets purchased) and wanderlust…

And while we’re speaking of trains–Hey, Pete and Harry!

her failure was a useful preliminary to success

Last week I finished Edith Wharton’s 1920s investigation of changing cultural norms in The Custom of the Country. The protagonist, Undine Spragg, is a conspicuous consumer and a social climber with a prime spot for advancement in the changing landscape of 1920s New York, where the divide between old money and everyone else began to vanish as industrialization and extreme capitalism found their way into society.

The rows of girls and boys in my class dressed in such conspicuous brand names that they might as well be wearing dollar signs, quickly claimed their resentment of Undine. Her obsession with appearance is disgusting, they said. Her behavior is selfish and crass—why would Edith Wharton write such an awful character? They take her as a caricature and ignore their reflections in her words and actions.

I finish the five hundred page book quickly and I’m embarrassed to see myself at sixteen, eighteen and sometimes even now, as a reflection of parts of Undine. I think of ambition and how quickly it can ruin lives when unchecked. I think about my goals…

Last semester, during a random book sale on campus, I bought a copy of The Age of Innocence, Edith’s Pulitzer winning novel. I meant to read it that Spring, which turned into last summer and now I’ve set it in a longer, more realistic timeline.

That timeline simplifies everything and adds it as a task in my growing list of 43 Things.

The goal is this: I want to read Edith Wharton’s first twelve novels.

She wrote 22 novels but published multiple essays and collections of short stories. For now, this is a perfect starting point. I have Ethan Frome, The House of Mirth and The Age of innocence. I think I can knock out at least two of them by April.

1. The Touchstone, 1900

2. The Valley of Decision, 1902

3. Sanctuary, 1903

4. The House of Mirth, 1905

5. Madame de Treymes, 1907

6. The Fruit of the Tree, 1907

7. Ethan Frome, 1911

8. The Reef, 1912

9. The Custom of the Country, 1913

10. Summer, 1917

11. The Marne, 1918

12. The Age of Innocence, 1920

If you click the link above, you can find a list of 19 goals I’d like to accomplish. My number one goal? To find a REAL goal!

Two weeks ago, when I was feeling especially overwhelmed with my life and obligations, I met with a time management advisor who asked me to list at least three goals I had.

And man, why didn’t anyone tell me about that dunce cap I had been wearing for the past year? I had been goalless! I failed to reflect on anything that I was doing and I wasn’t moving towards anything. I have a few things listed on actual paper that I shared with the advisor and I’m getting there.

Here’s to another week of living. Celebrate it!